Mularkey, Titans keeping focus on sputtering Jaguars
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- With two critical games remaining in his team's effort to complete a worst-to-first surge in the AFC South, Tennessee Titans coach Mike Mularkey had one resounding message for his club this week: Don't overlook the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Considering the lowly Jaguars have lost a franchise-worst nine straight games and fired coach Gus Bradley on Sunday night, there are several reasons Tennessee could look ahead to a season-ending showdown against the Houston Texans.
Mularkey isn't allowing his team to think about any of them.
"It will be no letdown from here," Mularkey said. "We know we're in for a challenge, and we're going to prepare like we did last week. Nothing is different from last week for us."
The Titans (8-6) would benefit from keeping things as normal as possible entering Saturday's game against the Jaguars (2-12) at EverBank Field.
Tennessee has won three straight games -- two of which were against teams vying for the postseason in the AFC. The Titans have also won seven of their last 10 to climb into the playoff picture following a 1-3 start.
After winning five games total the past two seasons, the Titans are currently tied with the Houston Texans atop the division and can clinch their first playoff appearance since 2008 with two more wins.
"We don't ever get down on ourselves," said Mularkey, whose team will have its first winning season since 2011 with a victory over the Jaguars. "We believe in a lot of what we're doing, and last week was a good example."
It was the type of win the Titans haven't had in a while.
Trailing 17-7 entering the fourth quarter, Tennessee used a rushing touchdown from rookie Derrick Henry and a pair of field goals from Ryan Succop, including a 53-yarder as time expired, to stun the Chiefs and earn a 19-17 victory.
Henry has quietly emerged as a solid contributor to the league's third-ranked rushing attack (144.7 yards per game).
He rumbled for his first two-touchdown game against the Chiefs and has been a key back-up behind starter DeMarco Murray, whose 1,224 rushing yards are second in the league to Ezekiel Elliott of the Dallas Cowboys.
Henry, a former Heisman Trophy winner, grew up just outside of Jacksonville and now has an opportunity to help the Titans earn another statement win in front of a large contingent of friends and family.
"A lot of people are coming," Henry said. "Everyone has been talking about this game the whole season. It is finally here, so all my friends from back home are excited for it."
There hasn't been much other excitement in Jacksonville this season.
The Jaguars expected to be the team with something to play for late in the season after many dismal years but instead haven't won since Oct. 16 at Chicago.
Bradley was fired following a 21-20 loss to the Texans, and the Jaguars promoted Doug Marrone to interim head coach for the final two games a day later.
There were plenty of moments that led to Bradley's dismissal, but maybe none stood out more than the last meeting between these two teams.
Playing in front of a national audience on Thursday Night Football, the Titans raced to a 27-0 lead at halftime and blasted the Jaguars 36-22.
Murray and Henry each ran for scores, while quarterback Marcus Mariota finished an efficient 18 of 22 for 270 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. Mariota has thrown eight touchdowns and one interception over the past five games.
With another game looming against the Titans, the Jaguars have had little time to think about Bradley's dismissal.
"There's no time to sit and reflect on our time with Coach Bradley or what happened and why," Jaguars middle linebacker Paul Posluszny said. "We have the Tennessee Titans, and they beat us bad last time, so we have to start preparing immediately for that."
The Titans should go into the game mostly healthy.
Cornerback Jason McCourty (chest) and strong safety Da'Norris Searcy (concussion) left Sunday's game against the Chiefs early. McCourty was ruled out of the contest on Friday with both shoulder and chest injuries.
The news hasn't been as good for the Jaguars as of late.
Already with several starters on injured reserve, eight players were held out of practice Wednesday, highlighted by receiver Allen Hurns (hamstring), left guard Chris Reed (toe), cornerback Aaron Colvin (ankle) and key special teams contributor Arrelious Benn (concussion).
Even though the Jaguars have a depleted team, an interim coach and a pitiful record, Mularkey is urging his team to put aside all other distractions this week.
"If you take them for granted, there is a danger, but we're not taking them for granted," Mularkey said. "They're playing very hard, very high effort, very physical. This is no different than last week or the week before or all the way back to (Week 1). They're all important and this is a big game. We will not take them lightly."
Updated December 23, 2016